Shopping with George H. W. Bush

You remember when the first President Bush seemed flummoxed by the scanner at the grocery-store checkout? You can Google “Bush scanner” and read all about it. (Turns out it’s an urban legend, but it made a good story at the time.) Shopping with my husband reminds me of this purported incident. He is stuck, shopping-wise, in about 1962, when his mother used to take him to the 30th Street Plaza in Canton, Ohio. Add his anachronistic attitudes to his personality quirks, especially a terminal indecisiveness, and you have yourself an interesting shopping trip.

“That’s a pretty sweater.”

John spends about 97% of his waking life in movie theaters. This leaves little time for shopping. Hence, he is always amazed by the bounty. In the grocery store, he says, “Look at all the olives! Why don’t you ever buy olives?’ Then we walk down another aisle. “Look! They have Oreos with pink stuffing! Why don’t you ever buy those?” In every aisle, John will find A. something to marvel at, and, B. something to reproach me for.

His childlike wonder would be endearing, except that he’s in his seventh decade of life.

Same thing at the mall. In the department store, he says, “So many clothes. Look at how many clothes they have.” This remark has infinite permutations. “So many nice shirts. I like these shirts.” Then he’ll finger a white shirt with dark stripes and tell me how much he likes it. I believe that he likes this particular shirt, because he owns about ten white shirts with dark stripes. If I point this out, he’ll say, yes, but the stripes aren’t this shade. He’s distinguishing, for example, these pewter gray stripes from those gun-metal gray stripes at home.

John owns over sixty shirts. I just counted them. Today at Richmond Mall he bought three more. How many shirts do other men have? I don’t know. I’ve never been married before. My dad had hardly any shirts, and I had no brothers. John’s supply seems excessive.

Same  with sweaters. At Macy’s he’ll say, “That’s a pretty sweater.” I don’t buy him sweaters any more because he has nearly as many sweaters as shirts. He has to get rid of some before I will buy him any more. When I tell him this, he always says, “I could get rid of some sweaters.” He says this to torment me.

So, today he spent hours at the mall picking out a couple of shirts and sweaters. They’re on sale, of course, in January. “Everything’s so cheap!” he exclaims. “They should delay Christmas for about a month to take advantage of these sales!”

Once we have made a purchase, John worries about walking into another store carrying his bag. What will the Macy’s people say about his bringing a Penney’s bag into the store? I try for the umpteenth time to explain the meaning of “mall” to him. Does he imagine that the merchants expect him to trek to his car every time he buys something, a la the 30th Street Plaza, 1962? What would be the point of all these stores gathered under one roof, I ask, if you have to leave to stow your packages all the time?

He seems not to be listening, and on our next visit, about twelve months hence, he’ll exhibit the same awe, admiration, and questions. Are other men like this? I really want to know.

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